Over the course of my internship I came to appreciate the importance and complexity of interpersonal communication, and this was one of the soft skills I worked on the most. I would sum up what I learned as the following:
- Ask for help when you need it
- Say what’s on your mind
- Be confident
I found asking for help to be one of the most paradoxically difficult aspects of my job. I say that because from a structural point of view, working in a startup means communication is easy. I worked right across from my supervisor, and with daily stand-ups and weekly progress meetings there were plenty opportunities to ask questions or voice concerns. In a strange way, however, the intimacy of the job sometimes made it more difficult to ask for help. I wasn’t off on my own team with other interns and a designated internship coordinator — my supervisors were the start-up’s founders. I thus didn’t have peers or intermediaries between me and my supervisors whom I could go to help for small problems. Of course, everyone was happy to help when I needed it. This was, at its core, an issue of psychology. Overcoming what is a rather ingrained tendency of mine to avoid asking questions at all cost was somewhat difficult in this environment. The main thing was just to internalize that oft repeated mantra that there is no such thing as a stupid question.
In a related vein, as I became more comfortable in my position, I learned that it was important to speak my mind. My supervisor would often ask me for my opinion, sometimes, for instance, about a design decision or a post she was about to publish, and sometimes about how I felt about my own work and role at the startup. She really expected me to answer earnestly and not hold anything back, which I at first found strange and uncomfortable. As my confidence grew and I began to view myself as part of a team and not just an intern, it became easier to do this. My takeaway was that in the future, even if I don’t have a supervisor who’s so encouraging, I shouldn’t be abashed about offering up my own ideas and opinions when I have the opportunity.
Both of these lessons amounted to a more obvious yet difficult one — be confident. This means being comfortable with one’s own ideas, and at deeper level it means accepting one’s basic competence and ability, avoiding the tendency for excessive self-doubt. This is an integral part of good communication, I learned. Although difficult, and something I will be working on for some time to come, I did discover that it is ultimately a matter of practice. The more you ask questions or and the more you speak up, the easier it becomes.